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Rabin's Legacy 20 Years Later

Today’s participant blog post comes from Jodie Guller, a participant in the Yahel Social Change Program. The group is living, learning and volunteering in Lod, Israel for 9 months this year. This post was taken from Jodie’s personal travel blog, which can be found here.

When I learned about Yitzhak Rabin in Jewish day school, his story seemed so simple. He worked to create peace in Israel, yet some crazy Jewish guy killed him because he didn’t think exchanging a small piece of land was worth it for peace. Simple, right?

Looking back on Rabin’s life and assassination through Yahel has shown me that his legacy is far from simple. In a learning session, we looked at flyers created for Rabin Memorial Day in various years since his death. How did people’s perceptions of Rabin and his legacy change over time? What themes did people focus on throughout the years as they remembered his life and death? This exercise made me realize that Rabin’s legacy is complex. Some people think his work ultimately set the stage for the next 20 years of tension and violence. Others believe if Rabin had lived to finish what he started, the situation today would be vastly different.

As part of the session, we created our own flyers based on our understanding of Rabin’s legacy.

This speculation is uninteresting to me, though. I think the more relevant question is how should we move forward? How can we take Rabin’s values of peace and coexistence and apply them to our lives in Israel and around the world today, two decades after his assassination?

Instead of celebrating October 31stwith pumpkins and candy this year, I spent it at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv attending the peace rally to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination. After hearing from several Israeli musicians and leaders, former U.S. President, Bill Clinton, took the stage.

Clinton described his experiences working with Rabin and how he, “refused to give up his dream for peace in the face of violence.” My favorite part of the speech was when Clinton described Rabin’s philosophy on working with his supposed enemies. He said, “Rabin thought he became more human as he was able to recognize the humanity of others. He became more human as he was able to reach across the table,” working with his opponents toward a common goal. Rabin believed in this notion that empathy and coexistence work are sparks of humanity, which is something I hadn’t considered before but really love. It’s easy to think that human nature tends toward violence, but what if we all adopted Rabin’s idea of what humanity is instead?

Clinton concluded by calling the rally attendees to action, saying, “you have to decide how to finish [Rabin’s] legacy. The last chapter must be written by the people he gave his life to save and to nourish.”

The building behind the stage had the windows lit up throughout the rally. It alternated between an Israeli flag and the words “Shalom, Chaver” (Goodbye, friend), which Clinton famously said in his eulogy for Rabin in 1995.

So how can we live out Rabin’s legacy?

In the past few weeks, it certainly hasn’t seemed like we’re doing so successfully. Violent attacks, including stabbings and car rammings, have become too numerous for me count. I’m no longer surprised when my phone buzzes with an update of a new attack, of new civilians injured or killed, and new perpetrators detained or shot.

These violent attackers have been commanding the attention of Israel and of the world. But are they the ones who deserve it?

In my experience living and volunteering in the mixed city of Lod, the people who deserve our attention are those who spend their time working toward peace and coexistence. The ones who deserve it are those carrying out Rabin’s legacy in their daily lives.

Although reducing violence in Israel seems like an impossible task, it becomes much more manageable when examined on a smaller scale. All the school principals and government officials we’ve met with over the past 7 weeks seem to agree that improving education is an effective way to decrease the youth’s propensity toward violence. The more educated people are, the more opportunities they have in life, and the less likely they are to resort to violence.

My morning volunteer placement for the year is working at Elrazi School, an Arab elementary school here in Lod. Three days a week I pull small groups of 3-4 kids out of class to work with them on their English skills. It’s been an incredibly welcoming environment for me, even though the teachers and students know I’m Jewish. The teachers offer Dan, the other Yahel volunteer, and I food during our breaks. The kiddos run up to us in the hallway yelling, “Hi, how are you?” and reach their hands out to us for high-fives even if we’ve never met before. I think this is the closest I’ll ever get to feeling like a celebrity!

Dan and I volunteer at Elrazi School 3 days per week. You can see the sign is written in both Arabic and Hebrew.

Recently, there was an incident in which a 5th grade boy held up a plastic knife to Dan’s stomach during a passing period in the hall. Dan was physically unharmed and I’d like to believe the boy’s intention was never to inflict actual damage, but I can’t speak to the incident itself because I wasn’t there. Instead, I want to share with you the aftermath.

The student’s parents were called and he was disciplined, but it didn’t stop there. It was clear that Zaher, the school principal, did not take this lightly. The next day we were there, she addressed the entire student body at their usual morning assembly. She told them about the incident and reiterated that they have a zero-tolerance policy for violence. Zaher came up to Dan and me in the teacher’s room and apologized for the incident and, with tears in her eyes, asked if we still felt safe in her school.

This is the daily assembly on a different morning. Zaher, the principal, is standing to the left of the stage.

Later that day, we had a meeting with the principal, Zaher, our Yahel staff member, Mike, and the English teacher, Adeel. We found out that in addition to the morning assembly, all homeroom teachers would be speaking with their individual classes about the non-violence policy. Zaher wanted to make it exceptionally clear to the students that there is no such thing as “playing” when it comes to violence and that no violence of any kind would be permitted at Elrazi.

Zaher recounted a separate incident of a smart, ordinarily well-behaved boy who got in a physical fight with another student. His parents were angry their “good boy” was in trouble and called her to say they would complain to the municipality if she didn’t rescind his punishment. Zaher bluntly replied that she didn’t care if they went to the Prime Minister; she would not tolerate violence at her school under any circumstances.

Zaher’s strong anti-violence policy is just one example of how Rabin’s core values can be integrated into society today to work toward a better, more peaceful future. The next time your attention is grabbed by news of another violent attacker, think of her instead. Think of all the individuals who have taken on the difficult task of enacting positive change in their communities. Let Rabin’s legacy live on through individuals who foster an atmosphere of coexistence, rather than violence. Give these people the attention they might not demand, but they certainly deserve.

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